Stakes are increasing when it comes to leveraging technology to define and deliver new value. The CEO and the executive team leaders are reeling with the challenges of identifying and implementing new digital business models while also wrestling with making smart capital investments to develop and mature organizational capabilities that enable agility and rapid response to new market opportunities. At the same time, board directors are in a quandary, attempting to make sense of the digital landscape, and to obtain assurance that their CEO and executive team leaders are enabling the right culture, acquiring and nurturing the right talent, validating that the technology investments are prudent and reasonable, and effectively capitalizing on business opportunities while mitigating security concerns that pose significant risks to the company’s financial position and reputation.
Many refer to this point of time as the era of “digital disruption” for “digital transformation.” For me, these phrases seem somewhat of a misnomer. Taking a more macro and holistic look at this period, and reflecting on past history as a means to understand where we are and where we are headed, perhaps what we’re really witnessing is a revival of classic laissez faire economics. Market forces are being reshaped by technology in ways never previously imaginable. The pace of technology-driven innovation is far exceeding the ability of government and regulatory entities to put corresponding consumer protections in place, even as organizations struggle to recalibrate their information and technology governance and security to adjust to business opportunities appearing and vanishing in much shorter cycles. What’s really at stake today is the longer-term survivability of enterprises as we know them, coupled with the coming of inconceivable shifts in jobs and how people will work. And we find ourselves merely at the tip of the digital economy iceberg.
Dr. Peter Weill, director of MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research in Cambridge, Mass., says that, “in a digital economy, the whole company is responsible for generating value from digital investments.” To address this challenge, his research identified three key components on which enterprises must focus. First, there is the strategic, which is envisioning how the company will operate in the future. Second, there is oversight, which is making sure the major investments and organizational change is on track. Third, and of critical importance, is the defensive, which is effectively meeting the challenges of security, privacy, and compliance on an ongoing basis.
Key to meeting the aforementioned challenges? People, of course. No wonder that in Gartner’s recently released list of barriers to becoming a successful digital business, talent emerges as among the most significant. Not surprisingly, many organizations still follow the same hiring protocols they did 10 years ago. While arguably some criteria for new hires haven’t change, such as having a strong work ethic, a knack for problem-solving, good time management skills, and a thirst for continuous learning, there needs to be increased focus on recruiting those who demonstrate that they are digitally savvy or are grasping the need to prioritize growing their skills in this area. This means understanding how new and emerging technologies can be deployed, how to harness big data and statistical analysis to shape new approaches to product development and deployment, and applied knowledge of technologies that are or will shape the future of business, including the likes of cloud computing, AI and machine learning, blockchain, augmented reality, and perhaps even the promise of quantum computing. These attributes, along with a propensity to be comfortable with risk and uncertainty, should most importantly enable hiring managers to see whether candidates exhibit the right chemistry to fit into the corporate culture. Simply stated, traditional organizational hiring practices must be modernized to cultivate the right talent in order to successfully meet the challenges of the digital economy.
So, let’s not be fooled into thinking we’re okay because our company ship has yet to hit that digital economy iceberg. This iceberg runs long and spikes just beneath the surface. Navigating around it calls for “all hands on deck.” Traversing these choppy seas without incident means establishing and maturing the capabilities our organizations will need to turn on the dime when things matter most. The only way the CEO and executive teams can become confident is if the right talent is in place. Similarly, the only way for boards to obtain the assurance that the corporate ships are in good hands is to be convinced that the CEO and executive teams have established the right culture with the right people, and that they are effectively addressing the strategic, oversight and defensive components necessary to generate value from digital investments. As Peter Weill notes, “How good are you at each of these will predict your likely success in the digital economy.” I could not agree more. We find ourselves in exciting times—perhaps just as exciting as those who were paving the way of laissez faire economics back in the 18th century.
Editor’s note: This article originally published in CSO.
Matt Loeb, CGEIT, CAE, FASAE, Chief Executive Officer, ISACA
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